I’ve been quiet for a while. My apologies but we’ve been travelling (more to come later) and then moved into our new home in Toronto – which makes our ninth bed in a little under three months. I’m an old woman and it takes it out of you.
Oh, okay, I’ve been having a bloody lovely time and not venturing much further than Facebook, The Guardian and the Daily Mail (my bad) when I get onto the internet.
And where have I been enjoying myself? Whenever possible, Ged and I head off to The Beaches which lie around 7km east of Downtown. I know that because we’ve walked it a few times and these sore feet don’t lie.
The pain is worth it, though, because to reach The Beaches you have to go along the amazing Queen St East, a fantastic collection of homes and specialised, independent shops – butchers, delis, florists and vintage stores. Now I’m not a fan of “vintage” as more often than not it’s a euphemism for “second-hand and worn-out”, but here you can find wonderful designer outfits at incredible prices. I almost bought the most amazing 1960s wedding dress until I realised that the price of the operation to remove a few ribs so it would fit outweighed the bargain. Just. We also popped in to a true North American greasy spoon cafe – the sort you see in Grease or Fried Green Tomatoes – for a lipsmacking burger.
You know you’re getting closer to The Beaches themselves when: a) your feet start crying and b) you pass the Ashbridge Estate. From the street, you see a two-storey home – there are no high-rises here, adding to the airy, spacious feel – dating back to 1854 (above right). It is a beautiful green and white wooden home with a large porch surrounded by two acres of stunning gardens. You expect to see John Boy Walton looking out from the upstairs window as he writes his diary for that day before wishing everyone goodnight. Amazingly, the estate, the first residential home in east Toronto, was inhabited by the same family for two centuries before being bequeathed to the city in 1972.
The Beaches itself is the area around four of Toronto’s beaches: Woodbine, Kew, Scarboro and Balmy. Here, you find a wide expanse of golden sand and the turquoise blue waters of Lake Ontario lapping up onto the shore while seagulls, cormorants, ducks, swans and geese fly overhead. It is truly, truly beautiful. Even on a cold April day, which was when we first visited, it makes for an impressive sight. You have to keep reminding yourself that you’re looking at a lake, and not even one of North America’s biggest, and only the lack of salt air reminds you that you’re not at the beach.
In front of colourful homes with the best view ever (below), a boardwalk sweeps round the bay next to a track filled with joggers, power-walkers, roller-bladers and cyclists (who seem to have no bells on their bikes and think it’s perfectly okay to almost run you over as you cross the track). Entering Woodbine Beach, you negotiate your way past dozens of beach volleyball pitches filled with the beautiful (and not so beautiful) young (and not so young) people. Forget those teenage beach movies, everyone plays volleyball no matter their age, size or six-pack. Toronto’s strong winds make the area a haven for kite-surfers and even if the water isn’t inviting (lifeguards warn if the pollution level gets too high), they can be seen practising on the beach, leaving me in awe of their upper body strength. Honest. That’s the only reason why I spend so long gazing at these young men…
The beach is surprisingly quiet, even when full. Spaniards take note. Music is rarely played loudly and the only screams come from the jet-skiiers bouncing their way across the water. There’s none of the continental obsession with bat and ball (thank God), although there’s a little too much frisbee for my liking (Really? That’s a sport?). And I must admit to giggling when the 20-year-olds next to us practised their martial arts stick-fighting and added the Star Wars noises for extra effect as they swung their weapons. In the words of Brian Potter: “Have you ever kissed a girl, son?”
The sun is also incredibly strong. In eight years in Madrid, enduring temperatures of 40C, we were never burnt. It has happened a couple of times here, making sunscreen a daily ritual never mind the cloud cover. The toilets can also ruin my lavatory love some days, too.
However, my favourite memory of The Beaches so far is not the sand, nor the shops, nor the joy of the young people. It was spending an afternoon watching hundreds of cormorants (right) flying north for the summer, dozens and dozens of v-shaped formations swooping over the water then soaring high to change squadron leader before diving low again. It was like a perfectly choreographed ballet. I’m already sad that we won’t see them return again come the Fall.